Linda Press, executive director of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled (JSDD), said her excitement is growing as the vision of her organization’s coming move — from its current location on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange to new digs on Eisenhower Parkway in Livingston — is closer to reality.
A ground-breaking ceremony following the launch of a $10 million capital campaign — of which $7 million has been raised — took place Oct. 6.
Press, a West Caldwell resident who has served as executive director of JSDD — a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ — since 2001, said, “I’m starting to envision what we will have. We’ll have 17,300 square feet instead of 7,000 to help our members who use our WAE [Wellness, Arts, Enrichment] Center for their activities.”
Sharing her excitement for the completion of what will be called the Cooperman Family Campus — the estimate is 18-24 months from now — is WAE Center director Marilynn Lipsky Schneider.
“I simply can’t wait until we have that facility,” said Schneider of Springfield. “We’ll be able to do so much more for our members.”
Local architect Stephen Schwartz of SWS Architects in Livingston was among the first to recognize the need for new headquarters for JSDD. Through his involvement with the WAE Center — he was a participating artist in its 2015 “Chairs of Inclusion” project, a traveling exhibit of chairs designed to promote the concept of inclusion for individuals with disabilities, who deserve “a seat at the table” — Schwartz came to realize a larger facility was needed. He will design the new building on Eisenhower Parkway property which he owns and is selling to JSDD. Campaign cochairs are JSDD president Ellen Goldner and Sam Weinstock.
The WAE Center offers classes and activities in nearly three dozen areas, including the arts, cooking, creative writing, crocheting, jewelry making, knitting and sewing, music, language arts, and theater. About 60 members use the WAE Center each week, according to Press.
“To me, it’s an adult school,” said Press. “Many of our members are interested in these activities. We work with them to develop the skills to develop their interests. We enjoy seeing them advance. When we started the WAE Center in 2004” — with help from a Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey grant — “we had eight members using it. Now we have 60.”
Those active WAE Center members include Carrie S., who spoke to NJJN during a visit to the West Orange location as she was crafting a creative writing piece involving the “breaking of Yom Kippur fast with bagels, lox, and bialys,” with volunteer Elliott Bennett from Verona. Richard P. was there creating a piece of art — which will likely be put up for sale — with Harry Klein, Art Studio director at the WAE Art Gallery.
“We sell a lot of what our members create,” said Press, giving a brief tour of the gift shop, featuring dozens of member-produced items. “They receive a commission on everything sold. We enjoy seeing this for our members.”
In addition to the West Orange facility, which houses the WAE Center, JSDD runs 12 group homes with a total of 43 residents in nine Greater MetroWest communities including Millburn, Maplewood, Livingston, West Orange, Parsippany, Whippany, West Caldwell, Verona, and Morristown.
A lot of planning goes into opening the homes; the residents, said Press, “get to know each other and become family.”
With the recognition that it had outgrown its current home, JSDD, last Aug. 27, embarked on its capital campaign, “Building an Extraordinary Future.”
“We have accountants, more administrative people, quality control, a lot we didn’t have 15 years ago,” said Press. “In our new building, we’ll have the WAE Center on the first floor and our offices and other needed areas on the second floor.”
Statements from key supporters underline their commitment to the JSDD mission.
Short Hills residents Leon and Toby Cooperman donated $2 million, which includes naming rights to the campaign.
“I worked in special education as a learning specialist, so I’ve always had the desire to help organizations who help people with special needs,” Toby Cooperman said. “The building was something JSDD needed, and I’m very grateful that we’re able to do this for the community.”
The Steven and Beverly Rubenstein Charitable Foundation, Inc., made the lead gift of $1 million “It is an honor and a dignity that we could make this happen for JSDD,” said executive director Andrew Rubenstein.
The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey also donated $1 million, support that will be acknowledged with its name on signs at the WAE Center. “As a longtime supporter of JSDD,” said foundation executive director Marsha Atkind, “HFNJ has been thrilled to watch the agency’s growth and the excellent work it does to empower its clients and provide them with a safe place to grow and develop their unique talents.”
In addition, the Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation has offered a $500,000 grant to match, dollar for dollar, other contributions and gifts.
“We are quite pleased with the support we are getting for the new facility,” said Press. “The new building will allow us to bring in additional staff and to expand both our WAE and residential programs. We’ll serve at least 50 more members at WAE and be able to add evening classes and expand physical, occupational, and speech therapy programs….”
JSDD has been helping those with special needs since 1984, when the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest (a forerunner of the Greater MetroWest federation) established a Commission on Individuals with Developmental Disabilities to identify and assess the needs of people with such challenges and their families in the local community. The commission became the JSDD of MetroWest in 1996, incorporated in New Jersey as a not-for-profit social provider.
Today, JSDD has a $5.4 million budget and more than 130 employees. Residential programs are funded by the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities. Additional funding is generated by an annual Friends Campaign and donations of funds managed by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Also, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Association, the Essex and Morris County Divisions of Housing and Community Development and Federal Home Loan Bank partner with JSDD in support of affordable housing for its 43 residents.